Set people up for success

Ever feel like the deck was stacked against you, that your boss or wife or boyfriend had somehow made it impossible for you to succeed?

In the Army, we called that being set up for failure. It sprouted from poor planning, from shirking responsibility, from deliberately withholding resources. (Some might say at this point that the President’s refusal to authorize AC-130 gunships significantly contributed to the tragic loss of life recounted in the movie “Black Hawk Down,” having set the US forces up for failure by holding back.)

But there’s something you can do once you learn what the short end of the stick feels like: you can set people up for success.


  • Tell them what you expect, and mean it.
  • Tell them what’s not important.
  • Tell them how to work for you.
  • Listen to them as they discuss conflicting priorities.
  • Set an example.
  • Train them properly before expecting them to succeed.

People can tell when they’re being pointed in the right direction, even if they still choose to go the wrong way!

When was the last time you set someone up for success? How did it turn out? What extra benefits (if any) did you experience afterwards?